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December 15, 2008


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Peter Homans

The classical music world, like other professional groups, is somewhat messy; it's not a pure meritocracy. And even if it were possible to create a pure meritocracy, the results would be deadening to the human spirit. The sociologist Max Weber said that living under a purely rational/bureaucratic authority would be like living "in an iron cage."

The fact that Gilbert Kaplan (claiming knowledge of only one piece) was able to conduct the Philharmonic in that one piece as an amateur, together with the fact that David Finlayson was able to label him an "imposter" on his blog and generate so many thoughtful comments and a New York Times article to boot, is exciting (forgetting for one moment that David endured a nerve-wracking experience with Kaplan at the podium). Provided no one gets killed in the process, we should exult that we live in such an imperfect world.

Edward G. Nilges, Hong Kong

How would we exult that we live in an imperfect world?


"Gradually men will begin to fear us. They will
nervously dread our slightest anger, their intellects will
weaken, their eyes become as easily accessible to tears as those
of children and women; but we will teach them an easy transition
from grief and tears to laughter, childish joy and mirthful song."

- Fyodor Dosteoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Here's to living in an imperfect world
Provided no-one gets killed:
Or, since this is an imperfect world
Let them be killed behind an invisible shield.

Here's to living in an imperfect world,
Where money talks and bullshit walks,
Allowing us to go, in this imperfect world,
About our business and check our stocks.

So don't bite the hand that feeds you
Don't take any wooden nickels,
Go home to the only people what needs you
And thank the Lord for pickles,
Flopsy bunnies,
And other things that please you.

I'm quite serious. The Constitution of a world that's accepted as imperfect, absent a pointer to the consolations of religion which are about a Pure Land, a Zion of chalcedony, that is indeed perfect in the sense of redeemed, could not contain a clause allowing imperfection on its own terms without being self-contradictory.

I'm thinking of the time when I went to traffic court to pay a fine. The guy before me tried to explain that he was "only" going 60 in a 55 zone: the judge cut him short, saying that it was an error to think that the black letter of the 55 mph speed limit contained any further black letter, to wit, "by the way, buddy, if you're in a hurry, we do not live in a perfect world, so feel free to fudge this very limit, indeed, you drivers may feel so free *en masse* as to turn certain throughways such as Rte. 101 in San Francisco into a hyperspeed highway in which the slower and more sensitive driver feels overwhelmed by Society, and like a rat in a drain-pipe".

We do not live in a perfect world: no shit: details at eleven. But the very idea that we can write hosannahs in praise of *schlamperei*, getting by, good-enough-for-government-work, is what put a baton into the hands of Gilbert Kaplan. It is the world of the slowly boiled frog who does not know he's on the menu until it's too late.

Edward G. Nilges, Hong Kong

Weber said that. And it is true. However, please note that the "give", the *schlamperei*, in our system is not accessible to the ordinary person but only to the rich, whereas the *schlamperei* is used AGAINST the ordinary in the case where the doctoral candidate who's of an unfashionable race or gender meets all the requirements but is said to lack a certain je ne sais WTF.

[By "unfashionable race or gender" you may understand either non-white-male, or white male past a certain age in certain contexts where an institution with a real record of pro-white-male discrimination and no intention of actually changing selects unfashionably subaltern white males for a form of human sacrifice.]

That is: a genuine musician, who's survived penury and savage regimens of practise, is shown the door in a budget cut, or forced to work under a clown like Kaplan, and you quote Max Weber.

Like the Irish whites of South Boston during the busing crisis of the 1970s, he's told that he's expected to sacrifice for a liberal, humanist goal: the preservation of our nice, go-along-to-get-along, system of *schlamperei* lest we all have to live in an iron cage.

This makes no sense. Liberating Finlayson from having to play the old slide trombone under Kaplan is NOT going to put anyone in an iron cage.

The alternative is not a great big iron cage for everyone, or what we have now, which is tiny little iron cages for most of us, who struggle through music school, get MBAs from crap institutions, or make it into Princeton only to be told, on entering the so called "real world", that our education has just begun: that now we must not only learn a new set of lessons, we must also actively try to either forget alles schon undt gute by drowning our sorrows in drink, or take it to church on Sunday and leave it there.

The alternative is human freedom, such as is on tap in Spinoza and other thinkers who realized that whatever the Law is, it contains no amendments to the effect that suspend it in favor of rich stock touts, you dig me?

Wolfgang Berendt

Much ado about nothing. No wonder the young do not venture into the holy grail of the concert hall.
How many times have I gone and listen to the NYPhil only to be uninspired, Musicians anxious to leave to beat the traffic, but at the same time, when they are inspired, the playing is exhilarating like Bruckner/Muti just to name one. All melomane know the fraud Kaplan is. Good blog though

Edward G. Nilges, Hong Kong

Wolfgang, that would be the Grail's wald or wood, the zone of the grail and not the Grail itself which was a cup.

"Melomane" is a beautiful word. What does it mean?

The young do not enter the grail's wood of the concert hall because anything they say, no matter how tentative, is called "much ado about nothing" by a sort of *Schweigsame Bruderschaft* silenced by mutual consent, who know nothing of the Shakespeare play except the crude put down. Oughta be a law against usin' Shakespeare as a crude putdown unless ya read the goddamn play you ast me.

Nobunny wantstabe Parsival, every bunny wantstabe Gurnemanz, not realizing that Wagner's Gurnemanz is a pompous fool.

David Gibbs

David: I'm late to your blog but am enjoying your insights. Keep up the good work!

I'm also hopeful we can catch up one of these days.

Your "old" friend,

David Gibbs


Having most recently listened to Ivan Fischer' version of Mahler's Second, I have to agree that Kaplan may have the words but he doesn't have the music. Still, if he did raise some money for the Orchestra, and managed to stumble through the performance, it wasn't a totally lost cause. H L Mencken did write something to the effect that nobody ever went broke underestimating the bad taste of the American public. But even 'good' conductors can make mistakes. Wasn't it Pierre Boulez who decided to leave out a section of the Concerto for Orchestra (Bartok) in a recording?

Bernard Litko

I'm late to this 'blog' posting, and it's hard to know where to start.

1. Our blogger - and surely a blog by a practically anonymous musician is a cry for attention in itself - tells us he likes Catch Me If You Can, a true story we're informed. From this you can tell that our hero, Mr Finlayson, is a sucker for seriously low brow entertainment. Not only that, but if they tell him it's a true story in the credits, he's quite happy to tell us it is in a totally uninformed fashion. He tells us about someone called Carl Hanratty in this true story, although the person doesn't actually exist.

2. It would also appear to be lost to Mr Finlayson that the 'dedicated' Abagnale Jnr ends up a professional in the same field as 'Hanratty' by dint of his accumulated experience, criminal though it was to begin with (and something the fictional Hanratty fully supports). Anyone who thinks that Kaplan has nothing to say on conducting Mahler's 2nd - after lots of acclaim, whether you agree or not - is surely just spouting sour grapes.

3. Had Carl Hanratty, after some frustrating near misses, decided to publicly decry the FBI, then the organisation would have faced public embarrasment and the individual would have faced the sack. The NYP has taken a similar hit over this issue. I wouldn't give them the time of day if this is the reaction to a charity concert from one of their players.

4. Unlike The Rolling Stones or Miley Cyrus, orchestras cannot financially justify themselves and constantly work on some form of charity, the charity that when applied to Banking Institutions, provokes a public outcry. You exist purely on the good grace of the general public. Be thankful.

5. A 120 piece orchestra can perform a certain piece for one night only, with limited rehearsal time beforehand. Four amateur actors are unlikely to rehearse a single play without planning at least a week's worth of performances on the back of it. As such, over familiarity of a certain work can be no bad thing. Indeed, as has been pointed out already in other postings, history is full of top conductors making childish mistakes due to pure lack of knowledge of the work. Kaplan is as qualified as anyone to conduct this work, even if you'd prefer 20 different people in his place, not two of which will have matching tempos. Kaplan's recordings do very well in the best regarded published works on 'Which Recording?' And, as has been previously stated, many inclusing this blogger, would not be able to identify his 'unproffesional' work in a Pepsi challenge with other masters...

6. ... not including Arturo T, whom I'm guessing Mr Kaplan would know fine well had never conducted this symphony (a horrific error given the superiority evidently on display).


To me this blog post sounds more like someone who is just envious.

A person like Kaplan did nothing but made his dream come true which in itself should be applauded and I don't want to go into details of whether he does his work well or not.
He happened to have the money to buy his way into the orchestras. Well, that may be not be the most noble way, but it works for him.

We all deserve to have our dreams come true and there are a multitude of ways, not only by money, in how we can achieve them.

There are always better or worse conductors and musicians. If you study the time around Mahler, you will find out that back then many orchestras were far inferior to the quality level of today. Mahler reported often about trouble with insufficient quality of the orchestras he had to work with.

In the illustration and graphic design business in which I have been involved for 20 years there is also an onslaught of amateurs that water down the market at which I too was angry for a while - but still - and that is the same in all professional areas - life goes on and the high end of things are growing constantly and gain excellence. Despite all amateurs. It all depends on what you are focusing on. Do you want to make yourself miserable because you had to play under a conductor that you did not respect or do you want to focus on other, more fulfilling events? A few amateurs here and there who may buy their way into an orchestra will not harm anyone in the long run. Such people always existed and will exist. At least in this case you can see him as an enthusiast, helping orchestras to survive through his money. We do not always need to respect everything on an artistic level. Have a big heart and allow some space in it for the diversity and dynamic in life that gives you the opportunity to decide what you like and what you don't like. It all has its place.

I hope you too can make your dreams come true.

Madison Mason

I read your eloquent blog and laughed several times aloud at the sound thrashing you delivered Mr. Kaplan (who, incidentally, was not invited to speak in his own defense.). Be that as it may, I understand your frustration at being forced, well, perhaps financially coerced into submitting yourself to labor under the direction of a man you consider clearly untalented and mediocre at very best. Welcome to the modern world. You've described the Paris Hilton of orchestral conducting in Mr. Kaplan. Tons of dough and nothing to back it up. Witness the sad display of countless numbers of CEOs doing commercials for their corporations because they've convinced themselves that they have so much talent and charisma that we'll fall slavering at their feet in adoration. And who's telling the emperor he's butt naked and ugly? But you struck a blow, albeit a snotty one and good for you. However you did get paid, right?

Edward G. Nilges, Hong Kong

"Just envious", Christof? The all purpose deadly sin, which you can accuse anyone of when they ask for simple justice and collegiality, the all purpose deadly sin, so neatly, so mathematically complementary and reciprocal to its sister sin which is greed?

E'l buon maestro: "Questo cinghio sferza
la colpa de la invidia, e però sono
tratte d'amor le corde de la ferza"

And the good master said: "This circle scourges the sin of envy, and thus the cords of the scourge are drawn from love"

(Dante Purgatorio XIII, 37..39)

O Simon mago, o miseri seguaci
che le cose di Dio, che di bontate
deon essere spose, e voi rapaci
per oro e per argento avolterate,

O Simon Magus! O wretches of his band, greedy for gold and silver, who prostitute the things of God,

(Dante Inferno XIX 1-3)

You better call it down and ring, you better pawn it babe, because the jig is up. That is: the swine parade of greed is over, and guys like Gilbert Kaplan and Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff have been exposed as liars.

I have from an undisclosable source information that indicates that Kaplan gets people fired when they complain about his conducting, and I for one am tired of good professional middle class people having to endure this!

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate their brains and imagination?

... as Allen Ginsberg asked of the damaged grey flannel veterans of the Depression, World War II and McCarthy. What happened to West Siders, who studied at Juillard and Columbia and got rowdy?

They now sit and sweat, and owing the financial swine parade, their woes are doubled while Kaplan and his ugly, stupid pals laugh at them.

Because there are no effective limits on the takings of usury any more due to the numerous ways in which money can earn high rates indirectly, for example through "payday loans" and unconscionable junk mortgages, money in cities that would otherwise support quality symphony orchestras is attracted instead to men in Kaplan's day job, where they provide advice and make predictions without one tenth of the training or skill Mr. Finlayson displays when he picks up his trombone and blows, you dig me?

And Kaplan and Bernie Madoff are to blame. There may be no connection between them; Kaplan may have lost no money through the financial fraudster and Ponzi schemer, and he may not have steered his own clients to Madoff. However, both have perpetrated scams out of greed, in Madoff's case for money: in Kaplan's case for an unearned recognition.

To accuse Mr. Finlayson of "envy" is a moronic behaviorism worthy of a human resources department, because you have not pondered the amount of training, skill and talent it takes to be a professional musician, nor have you compared exactly what it took for Kaplan to wave his fool arms in front of professionals so good they don't need a damn conductor. I say, ponder it. I say, brood on it.

Sergio Puccini

From Argentina, Sergio Puccini, classical guitarist.

I read with interest this article about Mr. Kaplan conducting NY Phil last year 2008. I agreee with all this musician says. What is really sad is that unprofessional and amateurs conductors are allowed to lead a so prestigious orchestra while, at the same time, professional and respected musicians never get a response from the NY Phil when they submit a concert proposal. That happened to me, of course, but also to many other colleagues. Fake conductors conducting the NY Orchestra and good musicians with interesting repertoire are 100% out from the interest of the same Orchestra: really VERY sad.
I wonder:maybe it happens because we can´t offer a big amount for playing? mmmmm very very sad.

Sergio Puccini
(record label)

Hank C.

David - You're a jackass and you have belittled yourself and stripped away any professionalism you ever had in this "fans" eyes. You have soured my relationship with the NYP and I won't be going to Avery Fisher anytime soon. Pathetic, actually.

david baker

But could Mr. Kaplan's ego possibly be bigger than your own?

Edward G. Nilges

Hey David! Are you home?

I read today (15 Dec 2009) about film star Alec Baldwin and how he is now a spokesman for your orchestra!

I think he is an improvement over Kaplan, as long as he's not giving pep talks to the musicians a la Glengarry. You know, "third prize is you're fired". In reality, he seems a nice guy.

Duke Silver

I did not read all the comments as they are very long. But I read the main article and a couple of the first comments.

Yes, I fully agree that it is a desaster that with a lot of money quacksalvers like a non-professional conductor is enabled to misuse the ressources of great orchestras.
In the described case, unfortunately I was not part of the orchestra and thus do not know what was going on during the rehearsals, so I only know the recordings and they are really exsanguinous. There may be some special focus on some very details but the overall performance is not convincing at all.

However, this is maybe only the peak of the "commercial iceberg". The major problem is that today commercial arguments have priority over artistic arguments. And so people paying money for being allowed to conduct is the minor problem as this is certainly a very seldom exception. The major problem is that especially many of the "best and most professional" star conductors are not that good as they are praised by the commercial show biz machine (also in classical music business!). A lot of money is made by celebrating star conductors that are worse than unknown ones (often unknown Naxos interpreters easily outperform the big names).

I know a lot of so-called major Mahler conductors (really the "golden" names!) that are very "middle-rate" only. I compared the score and a lot of different interpretations in detail, of course it can be due to my own musical taste and understanding, so these are my personal impressions only [IMHO]).

I do not want to call the names of these bad-performing stars and their "accidents" as I do not know if this is fair and allowed in the public, but you all know them, they are about 70% of the most praised Mahler conductors. Some of their Mahler interpretations are lousy, many only middle class. This can be experienced very easily when you compare their readings to really outstanding Mahler interpreters like (e.g.) Klemperer, Barbirolli, Horenstein.
The sound quality of modern star orchestras often is outstanding, unfortunately not the artistic interpretation (the orchestra musicians are great but not the conductor's reading). In 80% of the so-called "top" performances we only hear very average mainstream artistic value. With the old guys I mentioned (there are many more I did not mention) things are completely different.

I have two explanations for this:

1) Those old days, conductors had to bring the score to life just by reading and individually interpreting it. Today all conductors besides reading the score they listen to ten or more CD recordings and anticipate that mainstream sound, they are thus not able to emancipate from the commercial mainstream.

2) These modern star conductors are not of the quality as those old guys like Klemperer, Furtwaengler, Horenstein and others. They are "produced" by the modern commercial show biz machine.

I believe that both reasons do contribute to that problem.
So I think the commercialism problem is much more that what was the basic article here about.
My 2 cents...

Wolfgang Roese

...but who are these people, that allow all the "Kaplans" of this world to ruin scores, orchestras and audiences? There must be someone who makes theses appearances possible..
For me that is even more frightening.. ;-)
Wolfgang Roese

I thought that Mr Kaplan was not a professional conductor so why try to murder him. He has probably introduced many to Mahler. Blame your management if you don't like him. I meet people I don't like every week . No big deal. It's great that your striving for perfection and I am sure that you'll play for many maestros you really like and others you don't.
Have you told Mr Kaplan himself what you think about his performance?
Give the man a break!


symphonic - just want to ask, if what makes Edward Nilges' words pointless is the apparent failure of most people to pass the Pepsi test in music, what are you implying here? That there is ultimately no difference between a Mahler recording by Bernstein, Horenstein, Rattle, or Kaplan? Then do you think that music critics should be banned? Following your way of reasoning, if I had the money, would I be justified hire a random professional sounding orchestra, conduct Mahler's Second (with even less skill than Gilbert Kaplan), release the recording and claim it as worthy to stand among all the historic recordings ever done? If this is so, why do we even bother calling the NYPO as a "world-class orchestra" then? If a Richard Dyer could not identify Joyce Hatto, does that mean that there's no difference at all between Lang Lang and Rubinstein? I am genuinely bewildered by the line of reasoning you seem to be employing here. Are Kaplan and Bernstein equals then, if few people are able to recognize them from hearing alone?

I'm not exactly a fan of Edward Nilges' load of words either, but simply consider the implications of your words.

Those people who chastise Finlayson for "biting the hand that feeds you" is missing the point. Same with those who declare that this problem is nothing compared to world hunger, AIDS, Middle Eastern conflicts, etc. What, should we just force the NYPO to chuck their instruments and become social workers in Africa? Finlayson is complaining with the background that he is a musician living in affluent New York, where we put high hopes in people preserving classical music as it should be. And he feels he should be living in a perfect world where the musical business is a pure meritocracy. And of course in such a context his comments would be more than justified. What are we doing, letting a man who dismisses the "resurrection" in Mahler 2 as merely overcoming obstacles conduct the NYPO in that very same work?

But we hit reality: orchestras need money. And the commercialism of a Gilbert Kaplan would undoubtedly help spark interest into classical music, however naive, into the minds of many people who do not normally go to classical concerts. Those two reasons suffice in tolerating what Kaplan has done anyway. But still I itch every time a well-meaning but naive media runs a story on Kaplan and talks about him as if he is the greatest scholar on Mahler 2 living in the world. Great people deserve to genuinely honored. I think we are on the verge of committing an act of immorality if we let people speak of amateurs and mediocrity in the same words as the true greats.


There are a lot of people who are not qualified to do their jobs. That doesn't keep them from being engaged. It just happens that this is a case where it involves music. To professional musicians this is a sacred thing because of the constant battle against mediocrity. It's too bad that the orchestra had a bad experience, but as in all fields, this too shall pass and better experiences will follow.
But...on the other hand...did the audience applaud? Will they return to the concert hall? Will they continue to buy tickets? That is a more critical set of questions to ask because the fate of symphony orchestras in modern times is at stake. Popular music hyped by the media and lack of music education in schools and at home has suppressed the exposure to classical music. Will orchestra jobs be secure in the days ahead? Maybe complaining about isolated experiences will not solve the more important issues facing the future of music. Even the demand for better quality conductors will not ensure the survival of the orchestra today. I'd spend the time working on that rather than griping about Kaplan's lack of ability.


I've never heard Kaplan conduct, but I did hear the egoist make a ridiculous statement in a promo he did for a WQXR program celebrating Mahler's 150th birthday this year. He claimed that Mahler is the most popular classical composer in the world. Maybe in the world of Kaplan's self-absorbed mind, but I don't think I'm going out on a limb here by saying that (as great a composer that Mahler is), composers such as Beethoven (in particular), Mozart, and even the less-sophisticated Tchaikovsky are much more popular with classical music audiences in general than Mahler. At the end of every year WQXR does a listener favorites marathon. Guess whose majority of symphonies always wind up in the Top Ten? It "ain't" Mahler. (Answer: Beethoven) For myself, the greatest composer who ever lived was Johann Sebastian Bach. But I'm not delusional enough to believe that the general classical music audience prefers Bach to Beethoven, Mozart, or even Tchaikovsky (unfortunately!).

Accounting homework help

Apologies to my trombone playing friend "Alan" Kaplan. I, of course, meant "Gilbert" Kaplan.

Finance homework help

Having made his fortune at an early age as the founder of the magazine Institutional Investor, Gilbert E. Kaplan first stepped out as a conductor in 1982, with a performance he expected to be his last. He conducted Gustav Mahler's "Resurrection" symphony (Symphony No. 2 in C minor), which traces a spiritual arc from tempestuous mourning though bittersweet reminiscence and churning despair to a place of transcendent bliss.

The 90-minute work had been a fixation with Mr. Kaplan since he first encountered it in 1965, as a young economist working at the American Stock Exchange. “I felt like a bolt of lightning had gone through me,” he has said. With no more musical training than the three years of piano lessons he had taken as a boy, he woke up one morning at 40 certain that he would conduct it. He spent seven months coaching privately and sought advice from a host of seasoned Mahlerians, including Georg Solti

Christopher Wist

It may be of interest to some readers that Mr. Finlayson is not the first member of the NYPO to speak out on this subject. One of his illustrious predecessors - Meredith Willson, who played flute with the Philharmonic from 1924 to 1929 (right after his stint with Sousa’s Band) described a similar situation in his immensely entertaining autobiography, "And There I Stood With My Piccolo." (Now, happily, back in print after an absence of many years.)

As Willson so memorably put it, it seems that when funds were tight, “the dear old Philharmonic prostituted itself” and would play anything for any amateur conductor who could pony up that Happy Cabbage in amounts sufficient to satisfy the Board of Trustees.

He describes several of these would-be Toscaninis, but the one I recall most vividly is a gentleman with a pronounced Eastern Establishment upper-crust accent – think Jim Backus as Thurston Howell III, or Ralph Bellamy as FDR in “Sunrise at Campobello” - who insisted on PERSONALLY tuning up every member of the orchestra, one-by-one.

The musicians would line up outside the Green Room by section, enter one at a time, play an “A” - and each be told THE VERY SAME THING, without exception. Willson, with his devastatingly keen ear for accurately capturing accents and mannerisms, transcribes that comment as follows:

“Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah! That’s JUST a little sharp! Loosen up a bit, will yo? THAT’S bettah! Thenk yo veddy much! NEXT!”

After a couple of cellos had gone in, come out, and shared their experiences with their colleagues, the rest of the section hit on a plan.

The next cello to come out simply handed his instrument to the next musician in line. That musician went in, played an “A” and was told: “Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah! That’s JUST a little sharp! Loosen up a bit, will yo? THAT’S bettah! Thenk yo veddy much! NEXT!”

That cellist came out, handed THE VERY SAME INSTRUMENT to the NEXT cellist, who went in, played an “A” and was told, “Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah! That’s JUST a little sharp! Loosen up a bit, will yo? THAT’S bettah! Thenk yo veddy much! NEXT!” And so on, ad infinitum, with that one poor cello going flatter, and flatter, and flatter… I don’t know about you, but I would CHEERFULLY have paid to hear that concert!

Anyway, it really is a fun read. I recommend it highly!

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